My View | Heather Peeler: We must ACT now to prevent eviction

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My View | Heather Peeler: We must ACT now to prevent eviction
Heather Peeler
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What does home mean to you? For many of us home is a place of comfort, safety and joy. It is the foundation for our emotional and physical health. As we sheltered in place this spring, home took on even more meaning as it became the only place that we could inhabit.

Unfortunately, many Alexandrians risk losing their homes. The economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has been overwhelming, especially for essential workers who are trying to
make ends meet despite reduced hours and challenging work conditions. According
to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, 39,000 households – 57% of Alexandria’s total – are renter households.

The Washington Post recently reported that 20% of renters in the United States are at risk of eviction by Sept. 30. That means 7,000 households in Alexandria are in jeopardy.

Eviction has a devastating effect on a family. Imagine if you suddenly had to abandon your home. Where would you go? What would you bring? How might this sudden change impact your ability to work, your access to food or your kids’ participation in school?

Communities of color were already economically disadvantaged prior to COVID-19, and with little to no financial cushion, they are making tough choices between food, rent and other necessities. Limited by low-wage employment options and recent unemployment, savings have dwindled.

Our neighbors without U.S. citizenship status are not eligible for federal CARES Act stimulus or safety net programs and have fewer places to turn. The Urban Institute Household Pulse Survey reports that nearly 60% to 70% of African Americans and Latinos in Virginia have no or slight confidence they can pay their rent in the next month.

There are many things we can do to address this looming housing crisis. In fact, the City of Alexandria is providing short-term emergency rental assistance for Alexandria renters experiencing housing insecurity due to COVID-19 related loss of income. Property owners, government, renters and nonprofits are working together to develop long-term, systemic solutions. But there is more we need to do.

Every Alexandrian can play a role in ensuring housing security for all residents. First, we must urge our elected officials to take bold action. On Aug. 18, the Virginia General Assembly will convene to focus on budgeting among other priorities.

Reach out to your local state representatives and ask them to prioritize budget items that will support renters and homeowners who face unprecedented financial hardships due to COVID-19. Include your federal representatives on your call list and let them know that federal action continues to be necessary to alleviate the economic impact of the pandemic.

Second, we can support the many organizations that are on the front lines helping Alexandrians keep their homes. For example:

• Legal Services of Northern Virginia provides legal assistance to people who are facing eviction.

• Lazarus Ministries provides emergency financial assistance for rent and food.

• Alexandria Housing Development Corporation operates more than 600 units of affordable housing in the city and is committed to preventing evictions despite job loss and other financial needs of residents.

• Tenants and Workers United mobilizes community-led campaigns to ensure social justice and housing for immigrants and low-income communities of color.

All of these organizations recently received funds from the ACT Now COVID-19 Response Fund. You can read more about the ACT Now Fund and give online at www.actforalexandria.org.

Throughout the pandemic, Alexandrians have demonstrated their love for our community through their generous support for one another. Let us continue to express our love for our home in Alexandria and take steps together to ensure that all of our neighbors can remain in their homes.

The writer is president and CEO of ACT for Alexandria.

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